Emily Dickinson wrote that “Hope is the thing with feathers,” an oft-repeated phrase that brings to many of us images of birds, open skies and hopes of flying free of troubles.
This past week has been a sorrowful week on Cape Cod with the senseless loss of a fine young man in the line of duty. Whether we knew young Sean Gannon or his family didn’t matter. Our hearts broke for them all. We worried, too, about his dog and were grateful for all those who stepped up to help.
Through much of the mourning, rain fell, wind blew, and temperatures hovered barely above freezing. It was a sad, discouraging week in which hope was difficult to find. We wanted the light and warmth of the sun, the hope and new life that spring usually brings. Instead we got gray, cold and more gray. And a death that shouldn’t have happened. Even the birds were quieter than usual.
Walking has always been good therapy for me and getting outside each day helps me forget the troubles of the day, at least for a little while. I’ve found this last year so discouraging that hope seems like a dream to me most days. The constant and insidious assaults on environmental protections leave me speechless and incredulous. The people voting for poisoning our waters and air, for killing any animal or bird that gets in their way, are people with children and families. I don’t understand what they are thinking.
As I walked on a recent morning I was pushed by wind and spattered with rain. A robin sang from a branch nearby and ripples ran across the pond like escaping fairies. Leaves of wintergreen shone wet and green along the side of the path. Pine needles were a lovely burnt sienna, a rusty hue. Trees, black with rain, were decorated with pale mint green mandalas of lichens. The beauty stopped me cold, even with rain seeping down the back of my neck.
Signs of erosion were all around me there in the woods. It was easy to see where water rushed down the hills, taking sand and leaves, twigs and stones with it. Trees had fallen everywhere, their now dead branches leaning against the ground in sad piles. They will be homes for many animals now, though. Their lives were never in vain. They will crumble and merge with the earth, giving new life to all sorts of creatures and plants.
That is how life is, of course. One life builds on another. Death equalizes all of us, brings us all back to moss, earth and dust. It is good to think of how life goes on from that, how life continues anew even when another falls apart.
Spring is usually a time of hope for many of us, I think. We let the scents of new flowers, new life, fill our senses. We taste the young sprouts of first growth and revel in the sights all around us. Finally, the gray and dull landscape comes alive with greens, yellow, pinks and blues in every shade imaginable. Our hearts fill with joy once more.
This spring has been a long time coming. Winter has had her way with us for too long now. Bring on the singing of birds, the blooming of flowers. Let us enjoy the babies, the young ones who are new to exploring, to discovering, to living.
Sad days have their place. They remind us to appreciate the good days, the happy days. As I walked back home from standing side by side on a sidewalk with members of my family and friends from my community to honor a young man taken too soon, I found a feather. It was an old dusty feather, but it reminded me that hope is not dead. We just have to find it.
Mary Richmond is an artist, writer, naturalist, and educator who grew up on the Cape and lives in Hyannis. More information at www.capecodartandnature.com.